From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>

Date: Sat, 23 Apr 2005 09:01:13 +0100

Date: Sat, 23 Apr 2005 09:01:13 +0100

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 730.

Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/humanist/

www.princeton.edu/humanist/

Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

[1] From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com> (7)

Subject: Re: 18.725 more on dubious conferences

[2] From: Vika Zafrin <amarena_at_gmail.com> (38)

Subject: Re: 18.725 more on dubious conferences

[3] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> (61)

Subject: an example of what I was calling for

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Date: Sat, 23 Apr 2005 08:23:22 +0100

From: Norman Hinton <hinton_at_springnet1.com>

Subject: Re: 18.725 more on dubious conferences

The random-generated paper (which, by the way, was probably done at a site

mentioned here a couple of weeks ago) reminds me that in the old PLATO days

(70's and 80's, for those who came in late), there was a "Chomsky

generator". You went there and pressed a key and hey presto! you got some

20-30 lines of pseudo-linguistics made up of phrases from Chomsky and/or

phrases that were rather like Chomsky. Sometimes the passage seemed to make

a kind of sense (I'd say "but then, so did Chomsky" had he not been canonized).

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Date: Sat, 23 Apr 2005 08:24:01 +0100

From: Vika Zafrin <amarena_at_gmail.com>

Subject: Re: 18.725 more on dubious conferences

Willard,

* > The key, I think, is to communicate what we know in such a fashion that we
*

* > will be understood far outside our domains of specialization.
*

It seems that you've provided the key to answering your question

regarding how to deal with events (and individuals) that propagate a

negative view of academe. The ivory-tower image is certainly aided by

excessive use of jargon. Add to this the human and non-human elements

of the system that encourage pursuit of CV padding at the expense of

actual research, and the academy doesn't seem like a nice place to be.

For many, it isn't. I'm sure all of us have encountered people who

are trudging miserably through teaching and research, unwilling or

afraid to get out. One common reason for this unwillingness (and it

often starts before the doctoral defense) is the belief that they

aren't employable anywhere else. That may be true in individual

cases, but in general it's a damaging self-image to have, damaging

both to the individual and to the profession.

(I'm surely generalizing. Please take with a grain of salt; although

from what I've read and heard, the generalizations about self-doubt

among academics are mostly true.)

Communicating clearly outside of our domains of specialization,

coupled with excitement and love for what we do (the same stuff we

periodically dig up to remind ourselves why we're still here), would

be great. It would benefit not only interdisciplinary conversation,

but conversation among... people. Up to a certain point of

complexity, a physicist could explain to me what she's working on, and

it will be interesting, although physics is far outside of my sphere

of competency.

Perhaps wording ourselves in a way that invites conversation with

non-academics might be precisely the magic TNT that will blow up the

ivory tower itself, but not the cultural goldmine inside it?

-Vika

-- Vika Zafrin Director, Virtual Humanities Lab http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Italian_Studies/vhl/ Brown University Box 1942 Providence, RI 02912 USA (401)863-3984 --[3]------------------------------------------------------------------ Date: Sat, 23 Apr 2005 08:49:19 +0100 From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk> Subject: an example of what I was calling for Co-incidentally, or perhaps not, a book arrived in the post yesterday that perfectly illustrates the sort of intelligent outreach that I was calling for: David Hilbert and S. Cohn-Vossen, Geometry and the Imagination, transl. from the original Anschauliche Geometrie (1932) by P. Nemenyi.Those of you who know a bit about the history of mathematics will recognize the name of the first author as one of the greatest mathematicians of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and one of the mathematical grandfathers of computing. It is truly a beautiful, luminous book. Allow me to quote from Hilbert's preface: >In this book, it is our purpose to give a presentation of geometry, as >it stands today, in its visual, intuitive aspects. With the aid of >visual imagination we can illuminate the manifold facts and problems of >geometry, and beyond this, it is possible in many cases to depict the >geometric outline of the methods of investigation and proof, without >necessarily entering into the details connected with the strict >definitions of concepts and with the actual calculations > >In this manner, geometry being as many-faceted as it is and being >related to the most diverse branches of mathematics, we may even obtain >a summarizing survey of mathematics as a whole, and a valid idea of >the variety of its problems and the wealth of ideas it contains. Thus >a presentation of geometry in large brushstrokes, so to speak, and based >on the approach through visual intuition, should contribute to a more >just appreciation of mathematics by a wider range of people than just >the specialists. For it is true, generally speaking, that mathematics is >not a popular subject, even though its importance may be generally >conceded. The reason for this is to be found in the common superstition >that mathematics is but a continuation, a further development, of the >fine art of arithmetic, of juggling with numbers. Our book aims to >combat that superstition, by offering, instead of formulas, figures that >may be looked at and that may easily be supplemented by models which the >reader can construct. This book was written to bring about a greater >enjoyment of mathematics, by making it easier for the reader to >penetrate to the essence of mathematics without having to weight himself >down under a laborious course of studies. (pp. iii-iv) My particular interest in the book is, perhaps, not what Hilbert andCohn-Vossen intended -- rather to come to a direct appreciation, if possible, of how the mathematical imagination works, so as to get some purchase on how an imagination of computing might work. If it is correct to say that mathematics is the imaginative language of the natural sciences, then this should be an especially fruitful place to begin. Other examples would be most welcome. Yours, WM [NB: If you do not receive a reply within 24 hours please resend] Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the=20 Humanities | King's College London | Kay House, 7 Arundel Street | London=20 WC2R 3DX | U.K. | +44 (0)20 7848-2784 fax: -2980 ||=20 willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk www.kcl.ac.uk/humanities/cch/wlm/=20Received on Sat Apr 23 2005 - 04:24:08 EDT

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